Williamstown Preschool Planning Church RenovationsBy Phyllis McGuire
Special to iBerkshires.com
07:29PM / Monday, August 06, 2012
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — There are lots of smiling faces at the Williamstown Community Preschool now that it's taken possession of its home.
The nonprofit preschool serves some 70 children ages 15 months to 12 years with day and after-school programs and summer camps.
"Everyone is very excited about getting a new space," said Sue Hamblin, director of the preschool for 25 years.
On June 29, the private, non-profit organization became the owners of the historic building that formerly housed First United Methodist Church of Williamstown.
The preschool has operated from an addition on the side of the church, at 777 Main St., since it was founded in 1972.
"We have a waiting list every year. We wanted to expand, but there was no room," said Hamblin. "I never thought we would get the church."
The building was put up for sale in 2010 when the Methodist Churches of Williamstown and North Adams merged. Their "temporary" location is the Williamstown Youth Center on Cole Avenue.
When the church was put on the market, the possibility of a future owner demolishing the building loomed over the preschool. "We thought we would have no place to go," said Hamblin. "What would our parents do? Our preschool is valuable to the community."
The town voted to give the preschool $250,000 from its Community Preservation Act fund to buy the church building; the preschool provided the $100,000 needed to meet a purchase price of $350,000. It took more than a year to complete the purchase.
Accredited through the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and licensed by the state Department of Early Education and Care, the preschool serves children from age 15 months to 12 years. According to Hamblin, the 70 children currently enrolled live in Williamstown and the surrounding area, including Adams and Florida Mountain.
Tuition includes breakfast, lunch and snack, and their are subsidized slots for families that qualify.
Now the preschool is accepting bids for renovating the church to suit its needs. "We want to use local businesses," said the director.
During a tour, Hamblin pointed out the changes that have, and will, take place.
"Only one hallway had to be de-leaded, and the church did that for us," she said, opening the door to the sanctuary. "In the first phase, the pews will be removed. The sanctuary will be turned into a gymnasium and our second classroom for toddlers."
To lower expenses, the heating system will be converted from oil to gas.
"This was the pastor's office," Hamblin said standing in an almost empty room. "We are going to use it as a lounge for the staff."
A future "Phase 2" will begin with the installation of a handicapped-accessible bathroom for adults.
Around noon, youngsters were sitting four to six at a table in the lunchroom, with teachers watching over them. Motioning to a little boy, Hamblin said, "Ian is a 'Bear' (a 5-year-old ). When he first came to us, he was a 'Bunny' (a toddler.)" Ian chimed in, "I like it here."
There were more than a couple of bicycles as well as other gross-motor equipment — poles, bars — in corners of the room, which also serves as a gymnasium.
"When we have our new gym, all that will be kept there, and this space will be used by the children only as a lunchroom."said Hamblin.
The preschool is looking forward to the future when renovations are completed, but they will honor the past in their role as stewards of a historic building. "Everything on the outside has to stay the same," said Hamblin
The historic organ is still in the building to save storage costs for the congregation until it finds a new home.
But another beautiful element of the church will remain, Hamblin said, "We are having Lexan put on the stained-glass windows to protect them from ultraviolet rays."